Politics Monday: Why Voting Rights Is A Foreign Policy Issue

We cannot escape the fact that our civil rights record has been an issue in world politics. The world’s press and radio are full of it. A lynching in a rural American community is not a challenge to that community’s conscience alone. The repercussions of such a crime are heard not only in the locality, or indeed only in our own nation. They echo from one end of the globe to the other.

President Harry Truman’s 1947 Committee on Civil Rights (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)

This was the state of America’s image abroad when Truman’s successor, President Eisenhower, created the United States Information Agency, in which my father, Robert C. Amerson, spent his Foreign Service career. Our Cold War foe, the Soviet Union, used images of racial turmoil in the US to court non-aligned nations. Indeed, the key civil rights legislation gained support in part because of foreign policy pressure.

The need to support civil rights as a way to strengthen the image of the U.S. all over the globe in the fight against communism was pivotal to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Julian E. Zelizer, a Princeton historian and the author of ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now‘ (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)

In his recent opinion column for The Washington Post, EJ Dionne,Jr. posits that advancing democracy abroad continues to require defending civil rights at home.

Imagine how democracy’s foes will use it against us that many of these provisions are tailored to make it harder for Black Americans to cast ballots.

EJ Dionne,Jr, The Washington Post

In advance of President Biden’s first meeting with our European allies, his national security adviser spoke to reporters:

I would say the basic notion of democratic reform and voting rights in the United States is a national security issue. We are in a competition of models with autocracies, and we are trying to show the world that American democracy and democracy writ large can work.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser (quoted by EJ Dionne, Jr.)

With President Biden in Europe to meet with allies in England and with Putin in Geneva, his new Attorney General, Merrick Garland, announced his intent to double the staff of the DOJ Civil Rights Division to challenge each and every new law limiting voting rights.

There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow. We will use all existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, in a June 11, 2021 speech to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice

[America] has unique window of opportunity as well as a historic responsibility to work with its natural partner, the European Union, and other like-minded countries, in defense of democracy, multilateralism and the rule of law. It will only have the credibility and influence to do that to the extent that it continues to defend those values at home.’

Bobby McDonagh, one of Ireland’s top diplomats until he retired in 2018(quoted by EJ Dionne,Jr.)
“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune
“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune

Travel Tuesday: When the King of Fools Foils His Own Plans

We discovered cruising

One of the delights about living in South Florida that we discovered when we relocated from upstate New York is the easy access to cruising. Barely an hour’s drive door-to-ship is all we’ve had to do to gain access to multiple Caribbean cruises and the delicious world of warm turquoise waters in Aruba, stunning caves in Curaçao, Mayan ruins in Cozumel, a walk through Old San Juan, colonial history in Colombia, a day on the Panama Canal, and lunch at a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. We even crossed the Atlantic on out last cruise.

Stopped by my illness and the pandemic

My close call with a serious illness during our trans-Atlantic cruise put a damper on our passion for travel far out to sea, and then came the pandemic. The world watched as the infected Diamond Princess was turned away from port after port, and the notion of climbing back aboard a confined space with thousands of people simply doesn’t seem like fun anymore.

Vaccines allowing cruise resumption

However, the vaccine has begun to change the landscape, and cruising will commence slowly this summer. Not for us — though maybe a river trip at some point — but the industry that has made Florida its headquarters is on the comeback.

Thanks in large part to the successful rollout of vaccines, the world of adventure is beginning to open up, and we are all excited to start delivering great vacations to our guests.

Royal Caribbean International President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Bayley

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates that at least 95% of crew members and 95% of passengers be vaccinated, but two leading cruise lines are taking it a step further. Carnival and Norwegian will require all passengers to vaccinated when they commence sailing in a few months.

Governor makes vaccine passport illegal

However, a Florida law signed on May 3 by Governor Ron DeSantis makes it illegal for any company to ask for proof of vaccinations, the so-called vaccine passport.

Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz
Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz

The notion that producing proof of immunization is to submit to some sort of oppression is lunatic enough, considering the life-and-death stakes. But the cruise industry is one of the most important in this state. And having long fought the stigma of noroviruses and then the COVID horror of the Diamond Princess, no other industry could be more anxious to keep itself virus-free.

The Editors, The Palm Beach Post

Governor DeSantis has both sued the CDC for preventing the cruise industry from sailing, and made safe sailing impossible under the law. Like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first sees him —with one hand pointing one way and the other in the opposite direction — he has made himself a prisoner of his own arms.

Cruise to nowhere solution

My favorite snarky newspaper columnist has an equally insane solution.

I say, if we’re going to do this, let’s do this right. The cruise ships should embark the unvaccinated Floridians, and then immediately quarantine them on the ship. Then, once the ship leaves port and reaches international waters 3 miles offshore, the unvaccinated could be rounded up on deck and sent by helicopters or motorboats back to Florida.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

Governor DeSantis acts as if, Cerabino concludes, there’s no harm he is unwilling to impose on Floridians if it helps him carve out a niche for himself as the King of Fools.

If he only had a brain, as the song goes.

Politics Monday: Why Every True Patriot Must Be “Woke”

I completed my elementary school years in Bogotá, Colombia when my father served at the Embassy as Public Affairs Officer in the United States Information Service. The American-curriculum school, Colegio Nuevo Granada, didn’t have room for both a second-grader (my sister) and a fourth-grader (me) when we arrived in 1963, so we were enrolled at The English School. It followed the British curriculum, including end-of-year essay examinations that I imagined were graded by stern women in tweed suits hunched over our papers like Andean vultures on a dead cow.

Along with acquiring slight British accents, my sister and I were schooled in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and, as I announced at dinner one night, “how we lost the colonies.” My mother could only shake her head. “Honey, we are the colonies.”

When we moved to one of those original colonies, Maryland, a few years later, I traded my posh accent for a Southern twang and learned the Pledge of Allegiance. Children are resilient. Eventually, we develop our own filters through which to see the world.

But, what if we are simply never exposed to an idea at all? That is the case with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. The official denial of the horror by the city’s white government, and the danger Black Tulsans would have put themselves in by daring to speak the truth, kept this awful story under wraps for nearly a century.

Although it is perhaps the most dramatic criminally racist event to be so hidden, it is but one shameful story among our country’s undeniable atrocities perpetrated upon Black Americans, the descendants of men and women transported from Africa against their will and force into slavery. As Tom Hanks wrote in his June 6 essay in The New York Times:

The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears. So, our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently.

Tom Hanks, opinion piece in the June 6, 2021 New York Times

Closer to my home, the Palm Beach Public Schools Board attempted to address systemic racism in its draft equity statement, which proclaimed the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” Parents forced the removal of “white advantage.” In a June 2 opinion piece in The Palm Beach Post, Jan Tuckwood, a former reporter who touring historic homes of the South for an upcoming project, objected to sanitizing the difficult message.

Discussing ‘white advantage’ creates discomfort. Arguing over the words ‘serve’ and ‘slave’ is unpleasant. It’s easier to shut up and shut down when words upset us — but if we do, we miss the whole truth. We must keep talking through the hard stuff, or we’ll never be cured.

Jan Tuckwood, The Palm Beach Post

One of my favorite expressions about true love is that we love not because we don’t know the truth about one another, but that we know the truth and still choose to love.

If being ‘woke’ means knowing the full story of your community and country, including the systemic racism that still shapes them, then every thinking adult should be. How can you love a place while knowing the crimes that helped produce it? By relentlessly confronting hypocrisy and remaining ‘woke’ to the transformational power of American ideals

Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
Op-ed cartoon by Mark Murphy, USA Today Network
Op-ed cartoon by Marc Murphy, USA Today Network

Family Friday: What My Mother Did During My Father’s Foreign Service Career

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod

So, Nancy, what did you do while you were overseas?

A question posed to my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, at a Cape Cod dinner party of accomplished retirees

Here’s what she wrote in 2004 about that encounter.

Nothing

Feeling wicked, I found myself answering, “Nothing.” I don’t usually consider myself capable of irony, but this answer could only have been understood by another Foreign Service wife. To soften my rather abrupt response, I continued with the usual recounting that no Embassy wife could work in a foreign post without the ambassador’s approval, and that the only jobs we could accept were as a teacher or nurse.

My answer seemed to satisfy the casual curiosity about how I could have spent 20 years overseas, unoccupied.

Since that night, I have tossed over in my mind just how I could have responded to the women who were years younger than I. In their generation, almost all women have held some paying job and that is, as it has always been for men, the peg that identifies their place in the larger community. So DOING equals BEING PAID.

Homemaker

The women of the early 50s, when we were first married, still were mostly, for want of a better term, homemakers. Some had a taste of earning a salary during a few years of teaching after college, as I did, though few in later years have ever identified themselves as teachers, as I think would be the case now.

Ten moves, four countries, two languages

So, during our 20 odd years overseas, I continued in my homemaker role in an ever expanding way. I was responsible for resettling our family during our 10 moves. For learning to shop in four foreign countries using two new languages. For seeing that our girls were settled in the many different schools.

Hostess, guide, ambassador support

For running large and small parties in our home to fulfill our obligation to promote our country. For being an unofficial guide for visiting official visitors, be they pleasant or unbearable. And for being available to the ambassador’s wife when she required help.

Having a ball

Of course, I was not paid, nor would I have ever even considered such to be a thing. The truth is, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be having all of these new experiences. I was having a ball.

State Department “Pink Paper” changed it all

A new generation of wives joined our ranks, women who were wary about “being taken advantage of for no pay.“ The old idea of a foreign service team of husband and wife just was not in their vocabulary. No need to go into detail here, it changed the community feeling we felt within the embassies. The state department geared up to produce what was called within the ranks The Pink Paper, delineating rules on the roles of wife overseas.

A killer of fun times was what it amounted to.

Robert and Nancy Amerson served in the United States Information Agency from 1955 to 1979, representing our country through public diplomacy in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain.

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan, 1962, Rome
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan 1962, Rome

Wellness Wednesday: How to Have Better Posture

We’ve spent the past 15 months doing a lot of sitting and slumping and vegging, and none of that has done much for our posture. But, we can improve simply by paying a little attention.

Here some advice from my friend Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness, along with the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. First, a simple exercise to check how you’re sitting.

A three-step posture exercise

Try this, right now, as suggested by the New York Times:

Picture the top of your head. Put your hand there. Lift that point higher.

Lower your hand.Let your shoulders grow lower and wider.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Better posture equals better health

Bad posture habits can cause imbalanced body alignment, strain on ligaments and muscles, chronic pain, injuries, impingement, low back pain, neck pain, hip pain, joint stiffness and muscle tightness.

Alynn Kakuk, physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program

Better posture also improves the functioning of our inner organs.

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness

Living in our bodies requires constant learning

Living in our body is not like riding a bike. It is counterintuitive that the thing we should know how to use the best —the vessel we live in — we must continually train.

Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during these activities.

The Cleveland Clinic

Here are some specific suggestions.

Hold phones and tablets at eye level

“Forward head syndrome” is rampant among all ages, thanks to our electronic devices. Llittle kids with iPads are getting the curvature of the upper back that we used to call a dowager’s hump Rather than looking down as you work, read, and play on your hand-held electronic equipment, try to keep your neck elongated. To remember how that feels

Get up and move once an hour

Standing up and focusing on good posture for a few minutes can relieve muscle strain and improve breathing and circulation, which also helps improve attention and engagement.

Deborah J. Rhodes, M.D.,physician and cancer researcher at Mayo Clinic

Boy, is to easy to fixate on what we’re doing. My Apple Watch reminds me to breathe once an hour. I often ignore it, missing a simple opportunity to take a 60-second break from whatever I’m doing. A ten-minute brisk walk around the block is even better, and our rescue Lab Kumba agrees.

Strengthen the standing muscles

We tend to underuse our upper back muscles, leaving them unable to help us stand up straight, while our chests tighten. Lower in the torso, our core muscles — our abdominals, pelvic floor, and the muscle running up our spine — are essential to good posture.

Kegel exercises became part of my daily routine at the end of 2019, when I learned how to strengthen my pelvic floor muscle in order to rid myself of the vestiges of incontinence, the result of catheterization during my three-month hospitalization. Yeah, recovery is complex and sometimes not too pretty. I do them four times a day. Every day. Check out the Easy Kegel app.

Check your posture with Marlo

Marlo Scott, First Class Fitness and Wellness, demonstrates how to have better posture

Politics Monday: How Denial Whitewashes America’s History

Even as we commemorate the grim anniversaries of the oppression, to the point of death, of Black Americans, our country continues to whitewash the past, keeping us all prisoners.

The Tulsa Massacre

It is the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre, the criminal event that resulted in the death of 300 Black Americans and the displacement thousands more and was forcefully covered up for most of the past 100 years by the government authority. Shameful.

Rather than remember and atone for this atrocity, Tulsa began efforts to erase it from history.

Charles Blow, CBS Sunday Morning

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

It is the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the unprecedented civil rights protests around the world. His white killer, a police officer, has been found guilty. Black Lives Matter has become engrained in our national consciousness. President Biden himself acknowledges systemic racism.

Perhaps we are making headway in acknowledging that the enslavement of Blacks has left a legacy to be reckoned with. But two news stories this week reveal that we are a long, long way from addressing our country’s racial fault lines.

Limiting the Conversation

In his recent article for the Associated Press, State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, reporter Bryan Anderson writes that the country’s racial reckoning is having a boomerang effect as Republican-controlled states are legislating limits into the teaching curricula.

We’re basically silencing the voices of those who already feel oppressed.

Lakeisha Patterson, third grade teacher in Texas

And Andrew Marra’s May 27 article the reveals another step backward. The Palm Beach Public Schools Board attempted to address systemic racism in its draft equity statement, which proclaimed the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” Parents forced the removal of “white advantage.”

Whites Own “The Conversation”

Unless we can admit to the reality of Black disadvantage/white advantage, we cannot begin to address it.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about America lifting a page from Germany’s playbook when it comes to national accountability. How Germany Guarantees Remembrance of the Holocaust. Let me repeat the final portion of that post, as it pertains exactly to the challenge that white Americans — including the white parents of Palm Beach County Schools children — are facing.

In an article entitled In a nation founded on whiteness, how to really discuss it AP reporter Deepti Hajela explores the challenge.

This mess has been from the founding of this country. This mess has been in our soil. It’s in our soul. It’s everywhere, and we’ve never really completely decided that we will look at it.

The Rev. Susan Chorley, First Parish of Norwell

Are white people willing to confront and have a conversation about the extent to which white racial prejudice and white racism, and the desire to maintain white power in the United States, is part of our political process?

Asheley Jardina, Duke University

Our Country Can Withstand Self-Scrutiny

I will always be the daughter of American diplomats who believed in the democratic ideals they represented abroad, even as our country did not live up to them. In retirement, free of the constraints of political office and government bureaucracy, they would have concurred with Biden. They believed that our country is strong enough to withstand self-scrutiny.

I still do. And so does President Biden, the first sitting president to visit the Tulsa community of Greenwood, the site of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

We must find the courage to change. We’re facing an inflection point as a nation; what people refused to see cannot be ignored anymore.

President Joe Biden

Family Friday: A family drama in my backyard

Fledgling bird

Like lots of families living through the pandemic, one mother had all the time she could take with her teenager and kicked him out. Or her. It’s hard to tell with a fledgling mockingbird.

When I first spotted the little bird, I thought it was one of the lizards that flash their orange neck fan for the girl lizards to see, or, more likely, to show off to the other male lizards while the girls just roll their eyes. A closer look revealed the orange body part to be a beak, which a very young bird nestled in the grass just outside our patio was opening and closing in silence.

Rescue plan

Poor thing, I thought, too weak to even chirp. Remembering rescuing a baby squirrel in Albany on another spring day years ago, I found a small paper box and ventured outside to save another life.

I bent down to scoop the wee bird up, and two unexpected things happened: the fledgling chirped and hopped a bit — teenagers are such drama queens — and the mother bird dive bombed me.

Backing off

This was not an abandoned or lost bird. This, the wildlife rescue volunteer told me, was an expected rite of passage. The mother boots the fledgling out of the nest but continues feeding the insatiable teen.All I had to do was back off and let the process unfold.

Do not put the bird in a container. That will scare off the mother.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

Nature nurture

Even so I heard these words, the mother flew in with a beakful of lunch. After carefully assessing her surroundings, she hopped over to her kid and deposited the morsel in his yawning orange mouth. He immediately chirped for more.

Kids. Ungrateful.

She was back in a few minutes with the next bit. And so on all afternoon while Junior ventured a bit of jumping and flexed his new bony wings.

Mockingbird mother feeds her fledgling in my backyard. It took her about five minutes to scan the surroundings before she hopped down to him. Nature is amazing.

Evening intervention

If the bird is there when evening comes, you can bring it indoors so it’s not killed by an owl, or a snake, or a cat. Or an alligator. But put it right back in the same place in the morning.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

The fledgling was gone when we went out to bring him in for the night. I am hoping that he was able to take wing or at least hop to safety. It’s too sad to think that, after all those hours of feeding by a devoted mother, the fledgling was taken by a predator. But, then again, there are all kinds of babies out there needing to be taken care of.

It’s just the beginning of fledgling season. Click here for Palm Beach County information on Florida wildlife.

Politics Monday: How vaccinations might restore America’s place in the world

American Leadership

He is the kind of liberal that emerged after World War II: confident in America’s greatness, confident in the state, having little interest in the culture wars that emerged since the 1960s, fierce about civil rights, deeply rooted in the working and middle classes.

David Brooks, The New York Times

David Brooks recently interviewed President Joe Biden to look at the direction he is promoting in his very big pieces of legislation. He could have been describing my parents, too. They devoted their working years to advocating for America’s ideals abroad during the Cold War, when our country was the undisputed leader of the free world.

China’s Challenge


Today, it’s not Russia but China who threatens. How ironic that the country which birthed the COVID pandemic is poised to reap the rewards of America’s leadership failures under Trump.

We’re kind of at a place where the rest of the world is beginning to look to China. We’re at a genuine inflection point in history.

President Joe Biden

Shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity

The president who is leading our nation out of the pandemic is positioned to deliver the world as well. In the next month, the U.S. could start a process of global COVID-19 vaccine distribution that saves millions of lives, asserts its stature as a beacon for the world and makes the nation itself safer, write USA Today reporters Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub whose article includes these inspiring quotes.

It’s an important moment for the world when the U.S. leans back in.

Orin Levine, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

U.S. involvement could be the tipping point.

Dr. Tom Kenyon, Project HOPE

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the strong thing to do.

President Joe Biden

The Bombas Strategy

I would love to see a U.S. government proposal that they’re going to donate a dose of a vaccine for every person under 18 vaccinated in the United States. You could pitch that to adolescents – that if they get vaccinated they can help another person.

William Moss, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Moss calls this a Bombas approach. The sock company Bombas has a nifty sales gimmick.

For every item you purchase for yourself, we donate an item to someone affected by homelessness.

Bombas

The background is compelling.

We heard that the number one most-requested item at homeless shelters was socks. It may seem like a small thing, but having clean, dry socks provides a very basic level of comfort to an underserved community that deserves to have a little more comfort in their lives.

Bombas

And it’s good business.

We’ve donated more than 40 million items that specifically meet the needs of the homeless community, including entire bundles of new clothes. That’s 40 million acts of kindness, all thanks to you.

Bombas

So, how about engaging Americans in vaccinating arms around the world? In my parents’ post-WWII time, internationalists called it “hands across the water.” Maybe it’s time for shoulders across the water.

Family Friday: How to Introduce Your Pandemic Pup to a New Dog

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that we rescued a black Lab just before the pandemic hit last year. Kumba was sweet, rail thin, and nervous-aggressive around other dogs. We had just one session with trainer Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training to begin helping Kumba to get accustomed to another dog before we locked down into quarantine.

Kumba looking in, Pancho looking out ….

As Alison said in a recent post of ours, social distancing has helped dogs be around other dogs without being forced into being buddies. Nose to nose greetings between leashed dogs sounds like a good idea to humans but is a recipe for disaster to our canine companions. Over the past 15 months, Kumba has become more relaxed around other dogs and in fact has several puppy friends in our neighborhood.

The pandemic has done wonders for dog socialization, exposing them to different things without requiring participation.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Three weeks ago, we put Kumba’s readiness to be around another dog to a critical test when our daughter’s Lab, Pancho, came for a two-week stay. It was touch and go for a couple of days, but, thanks to Alison‘s guidance, Kumba’s resilience, and Pancho’s excellent guest manners, the dogs figured out how to share us, our home, walks, and even … (I am not suggesting this, but it was something that happened organically along the end of Week One) drinking out of each other’s water bowls.

At Alison’s recommendation, we introduced them in neutral territory during a walk at a gradually reducing distance, then sat with them in our backyard, then entered a toy-free home environment while constantly monitoring and trying not to panic when either dog bark-snarled to assert his space. That final point is the most difficult.

Have them meet in neutral territory

Alison Chambers
Success means smelling the same thing at the same time!

Rather than have Pancho come charging to the house, Alison suggested we have the dogs see each other outside. We walked out with Kumba and Pancho was across the street on the opposite sidewalk. Oh, a dog. Okay. Check.

Take a parallel walk

Alison Chambers

Keeping them at a distance from each other, with my daughter holding Pancho’s leash and me holding Kumba’s, we did a leisurely stroll around our lake, territory that’s familiar to each of them but which is not either one’s turf. We gradually reduced the distance between them until we were on the same sidewalk and slightly off sides. Kumba was pretty nonchalant and Pancho was totally fine. Check.

Pancho looking over his shoulder

Pancho first, leashes off, be in the backyard.

Alison Chambers

How do you fake relaxing in the backyard while every nerve in your body is attuned to what your dog may or may not do to your other dog? This was a more challenging process than I had expected, in large measure because we were on the dogs’ timetable. We also realized that our reactions could be more alarming than the dogs’ reactions to each other. It took a while, but Kumba and Pancho were both eventually able to lie down and even close their eyes. Check.

Clear toys, beds, bowls before you go indoors.

Alison Chambers

Cleared out the house’s public area, leaving the (back) family room and the (front) living room as big open neutral territories. Pancho hung out in the front room while Kumba was in the back. The kitchen in between became the demilitarized zone, where both dogs could amiably convene in case the person chopping up the food drop something on the floor. They both know that happens all the time. They say food brings people together, same for dogs!

Keep the calm. Dogs and their humans need breaks.

Alison Chambers

We initially kept the boys in separate bedrooms at night and if they were in the house without us, but otherwise they gradually figured out how to coexist together. We praised good behavior— I’m pretty sure lots of treats were dispensed by the other human in the house—and the dogs self-corrected when they stepped over each other’s borders. There’s nothing ambiguous about Pancho’s “hey, get your nose outa my face” bark.


They may never be friends, but our two good dogs co-habited very well. They’ve both spent a lot more time asleep this week!

Wow Kumba!!! What big strides you make!! 😎😎

Alison Chambers

Wellness Wednesday: How We Are Navigating Our Return to Normal

From March 2020 through Friday, my husband and I ate only what I prepared for us at home. I’m pleased to have managed our nutrition very well, and our recent bloodwork shows that we are holding our own against disease. I’ll write a post on nutrition another time to share some of the recipes and cooking tips I picked up along the way.

Today, however, I have to write that …. we broke out and ate at not just one but two restaurants this week. One was just okay, and the other was a homecoming.

Comfortably locked in for a year

The pandemic locked us in, and we got habituated to those limits. We found ourselves enjoying each other’s 24/7 company — not a surprise, but what a bonus after 40 years — and engaging outdoors at a distance with neighbors. I didn’t miss outside society very much at all. In fact, I’d decided that hermit living was just my style, or perhaps it was the idea of breaking out of our self-imposed limits that made me anxious.

Many of us have gotten very comfortable with the safety that our isolated environments have provided and taking these initial steps out of our safe, home-controlled environments can cause fear and anxiety.

Dr. Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Hard-wired for fear

Coming on the heels of a slow recovery from my near-death 2019 illness, the pandemic terrified both of us. The unseen enemy lurked everywhere. We adopted strict cleansing habits. Masks, gloves, and bottles of disinfectant popped up on counters and cabinets around the home and in the car. It was war.

Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

Kirsten Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Taking baby steps toward old behavior

I walked into a grocery store for the first time in nearly a year when we got our first vaccine. The Publix pharmacy was near the bread aisle, and I will associate the sweet scent of dough with freedom for the rest of my life.

When we were fully vaccinated and outdoors, we began to relax around others. I went to Target, to Publix, to the post office. Not all at once, but here and there.

The way to work through anxiety is to take very small steps forward and expose yourself to manageable amounts of anxiety.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

One giant step into a restaurant

Then came last week, when the CDC announced that vaccinated people could go maskless. Our daughter’s visit coincided with that announcement, and I made reservations — at an outdoor table — at our old favorite weekly dinner place.

It was the first time I’ve had mahi-mahi since the pandemic hit. And blue cheese dressing. And anything someone else cooked.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

Choosing to keep new patterns

Still, that dinner did not feel like a homecoming. I hadn’t missed dining among strangers, and that included the wait staff, none of whom were our old regulars. Things change over 15 months. Including us.

A lot of people have found that this year has really allowed them to slowdown, to let go of things, to create new patterns and ways of being.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Two days later, we hit a homerun at our favorite breakfast place, where Latino sisters welcomed us back like family. Oh, how we’d worried about them. Other than being unemployed for three months, they and theirs are all well. Tucking in to a hearty Mediterranean omelet and homemade bread, I knew we were on our way to a new normal.

For a lot of people, it’s going to take some time to readjust to a new norm that isn’t quite pre-pandemic but getting closer.

Dr. John Whyte, chief medical director of WebMD.

How are you handling this phase of our unprecedented life?